The Rights of Women in the Light of the Prophetic Sirah

The Rights of Women in the Light of the Prophetic Sirah
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By Ishfaq Nissar Padder

The sixth century AD saw a dawn of the new era in the world. It was during the second half of this century that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was born (572 A.D). With the advent of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), a revolution occurred in the world. He(SAW) was not sent towards a particular country or a nation, but was sent for the whole humanity. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was described as a mercy for all the worlds, as Allah said in the Holy Quran, “We have sent you as a mercy for all the worlds” (21:107). It was the period of ignorance (Jahiliya), in which the whole society of Arabia was infected with social evils. This society of Jahiliya was most oppressive for women; they were its biggest victim.
A woman was sold and purchased in market places in fairs and received treatment worse than animals. The Arabs regarded her very existence as a disgrace and some cruel and insensitive people used to bury their daughters alive at the time of birth or soon after. Those who lived were not given any recognition or status in the society. The social environment, at that time, was rampant with tribal rivalry, wars over petty issues, plundering and general chaos led by the male members of the various tribes. In such an environment, the status of women was unquestionably inferior.
It was true of other societies and civilizations of the world as well, where a woman was given no status and had no political or social rights. But, in a brief span of 23 years of his Prophetic life, Prophet Muhammad(SAW) was able to transform the faith, morality, daily life and the vary mind-set of the varied tribes of Arabia. Women were not only given recognition but their status increased substantially.
Prophet Muhammad (SAW) came with the message of Islam, which restored the rights of women and ensured her full spiritual equality with men. When the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) reached the women of Arabia, they knew that in these teachings there would mean liberation for them. In fact, the first person to accept Islam was a woman (Khadija RA, wife of Prophet Muhammad [SAW]). He (SAW) defended and reinforced women’s rights throughout his mission and encouraged the husband to treat his wife well. According to the Prophet (SAW), “The best among you are those who are best to their wives”. Indeed, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is the best exemplar for all husbands in dealings with their wives and the best role model for the entire humanity. He(SAW)dealt with utmost love respect and kindness with his wives. His(SAW) wife Aisha(R.A. said), “He(SAW)always joined in household work and would at times mend his clothes, cobble his shoes and sweep the floor. He (SAW)would milk, tether and feed his animals and do the household shopping” (Al Bukhari). It was a life which was defined by simplicity and humility towards all.
Islam regards a woman as precious and valuable not to be disrespected or disgraced. It gave her those rights which the world had denied her earlier and she was silently suffering long because of this deprivation. Islam accorded these as her natural rights, as she ought to have been enjoying them. She was given the right to live, the right to education, the right to marry (Nikah), the right to property, the right to trade, and the work and earn and so on. Just as a man has a claim to the honestly earned wealth, so women have a right to own and use her lawful earnings. The Quran says, “To men is allotted what they earn and to women what they earn” (Al Quran 4:32). At present, it is a very serious issue faced by Muslim women whether it is permissible to earn their livelihood or not. But, when we look towards the times of Prophet Muhammad(SAW), we come across a good number of events which shows us that women were not only earning money but opportunities were provided to them and from those opportunities they not only used to full fill their personal but also family and other needs. Khadija (RA) is a good example of a successful and esteemed business woman.
The concept of sanctity of chastity and protection of women can be found nowhere else except in Islam, these are to be respected and protected under all circumstances. Since violation of chastity of women is forbidden in Islam, a Muslim who perpetrates this crime cannot escape punishment whether he receives it in this world or in the Hereafter. The Holy Quran therefore describes adultery as an evil act. The words of the Holy Quran in this respect are: “Do not approach (the bounds of) adultery (17:32). Prophet Muhammad (SAW) has also described its dangerous consequences. Thus, he declared it as a cause of plague (Ibn Majah) at some place, while on the other, he ﷺ called it a means of drought (Mishkat) and poverty (Baihaqi).
Prophet Muhammad (SAW) propagated the message of Islam which uprooted social evils from the society. He (SAW) dealt with every aspect of life and set different norms and principles for not only maintaining balance but living in peaceful coexistence. Both men as well as women are treated as equals in Islam. Both are supposed to take care of each other and gender roles are asserted to them by portraying men as providers and maintainers of women and women in turn as care takers. However, these roles were not specifically specified. It becomes quite evident and clear that with the advent of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) , women received their recognition and status in the society. Islam gave women their full rights more than 1400 years ago and yet women in the present time are struggling to fight for their basic rights. But, still in the present world , in general, and the Islamic world in particular, women are not getting due attention. This is because of the fact that message of Islam either has been misinterpreted or has not been understood well. But, bashing Islam for oppressing women is indeed a blatant lie. The rights are given but it is up to the society to distinguish Islamic principles from norms and common practices and bring them to the fore by following the true message of Islam with utmost dedication and commitment.

—The author has done his Master’s in Islamic Studies from the Islamic University of Science & Technology, Awantipora. He can be reached at: